Sunday, 10 March 2013

Guide Dogs - what a wonderful world

Whilst working at the library this Saturday, through the doors came the most beautiful puppy I've ever seen. What made little Coco even more special was that she had been selected to train as a guide dog.

This is a remarkable feat for a puppy of only nine weeks old, but soon this little girl will be the one helping to change someone's life all for the better.

I remarked to her puppy raiser that it must be difficult to give their puppy back to the Guide Dog Association  to go on to her next stage of training. He told me there would be many tears from all the family, but at the end of the day, she's not going to just any home. She's going to help someone gain their independence just from knowing she is there, to guide them where necessary during their life.

At just six to eight weeks puppies are given their first taste of training to become a guide dog. What's amazing is in this vital first year they will be shown the smells, sights and sounds of the world that they will experience for their potential owner one day.

Their puppy raisers will take them on buses and trains and into shops and busy streets as well as teaching them to walk ahead on the lead. They will also learn to obey simple commands such as sit and stay. Once the puppy becomes a year old, they then go back to the Association to begin their next part of training.

Their training is tough as they learn the different skills to guide a blind or partially sighted person such as dealing with traffic and to judge heights and widths so their owner will not bump into objects. Some of the puppies might not be up to this, but they are reassessed to see if they can go into other assistance schemes or they will be re-homed to either their puppy raiser or a member of the public.

How dogs can be taught to do such things is a credit to their intelligence and loyalty. I remember reading Emma and I, a book about Shelia Hocken and her guide dog Emma when I was younger. She was blind as a child, but later regained her sight through surgery, but still kept her faithful dog Emma who adjusted her role in Sheila's life accordingly. This book is a favourite of mine as it shows the love Sheila and Emma had for each other and how they both made a difference in each other's lives.

The Guide Dog Association is the world's largest breeder and trainer of working dogs. Starting in 1931 in a small garage in Merseyside, two women Muriel Crooke and Rosamund Bond organised the training of the first four Guide Dogs. To think something that started off so small has now helped more than 29,000 people achieve independence is simply staggering.

Factbox about guide dogs from The Guide Dog Association website:

It costs £50,000 to support a guide dog from birth to retirement.

Their average working life is five to six years.

There are more than 4,700 guide dog owners in the UK

The Guide Dog Association breed more than 1,200 guide dog puppies each year.

For more information on Guide Dogs, visit

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